Student newspaper wins fight for independent funding

COLORADO –Editors at the University of Northern Colorado’s student newspaper have settled two lawsuits filed in the spring, guaranteeing the Mirror access to student government records and establishing the paper’s independent funding.

Tension between the Student Representative Council, the university’s student government, and the Mirror began in September 2003, when the newspaper’s editors said the council violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law on three occasions by prohibiting public access to their meetings.

Mirror Editor in Chief Heath Urie, Managing Editor Chris Marchesco and former Editor in Chief Jessica Perciante filed a lawsuit against the council in April 2004, asking a Colorado district Court to nullify the three meetings that violated the open meetings law. The lawsuit was settled on Sept. 10.

The council agreed that as a state-operated body they are subject to the state open-meetings law. From now on, members of the student government will undergo annual open-meetings training and will tape record all sessions, except for executive sessions. The council will also pay the Mirror’s legal fees.

Urie, now a senior at the university, said he is satisfied with the decision because the newspaper held the student government accountable for the students.

“The only thing we did not get out of that agreement that we originally asked for was an admission that they had previously broken the law,” Urie said.

When the University of Northern Colorado’s board of trustees approved the council’s proposal to cut the Mirror’s funding by 41 percent, the Mirror editors filed a second lawsuit against the university.

The parties signed a settlement to that lawsuit in September as well. Now the paper receives $37,500 per year from student subscription fees, making it exempt from the annual funding allocation process, which is controlled by the Student Representative Council. Students will pay $3.17 in subscription fees each year to make up the paper’s budget. Previously, the Mirror presented an annual budget request to the Student Representative Council, which then made a recommendation to the school’s board of trustees.

Urie said he would encourage students who work for their college newspapers that are not independent of their student government to seek out the possibility of becoming independent.

“I think that [all student newspapers] should have support from the university, but at the same time they need to maintain that editorial distance,” Urie said.

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